An "Ash Sunday" Sermon
This is my attempt at combining my Ash Wednesday sermon with my First Sunday of Lent sermon, since, due to the snowstorm, our Ash Wednesday service was cancelled. There are two gospels to consider. The first (Mark 10:46-52) is the story of Blind Bartimaeaus and is the basis of our Lenten theme, "Just Wondering, Jesus: Questions From the Roadside." The second (Luke 4:16-22) is the basis of our first Sunday of Lent theme, "Just Wondering, Jesus: What Do You Ask of Your Church?"
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and from His Son, our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Because he was blind, he was an outsider. He was among the outcasts of his culture and society. He was considered a sinner, and likely had no friends and family left who cared for or supported him. It’s really an incredibly sad story. There he sat, all alone. on the roadside. But things were about to change for Blind Bartimaeus. This day would be different from all the rest. All of a sudden he heard the commotion of an approaching crowd. “It's Jesus!” someone whispered. “It's Jesus,” someone quickly told Bartimaeus. “Now be quiet and don't humiliate us!” But this only gave Bartimaeus reason to call out all the more. “Jesus? Is it really you?! Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! I can’t see! Will you help me?” The crowd, embarrassed, surrounded him; shielding him from Jesus’ sight, but what he lacked in sight he made up for with voice. There was no quieting his voice. And then, amazingly, Jesus stopped. “Call him here.” The disciples go to Bartimaeus. “Cheer up! It’s your lucky day! Get up and come with us. Jesus is calling you.” And suddenly, the man's, this outcast’s life, would be changed forever - AND he would regain his sight.
When he came face-to-face with him, Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” It seems like a silly question, doesn't it? Isn't it obvious what the man is asking for? Didn't Jesus notice that he was blind? But the question Jesus asked was, as always, insightful and brilliant. He wanted the man to be specific. The blind man did not ask for pity, or financial security, or protection from the locals. He was quick with his request: “I want my sight back. I want to see again.” And Jesus was just as immediate with his response: “Go!” Jesus said, “Your faith has healed you.” Jesus saw in this blind man two things; a desire for change, and a belief that Jesus could provide it. So he did. And from that moment on, Bartimaeus was a faithful follower of Jesus.
I wonder what I would have asked for. This story makes we wonder, what need is so pressing in my life that, if I had the undivided attention of the Son of God, what would my request be? What would yours be? This isn't a genie popping out of a lamp and offering you three wishes; it is God asking what our heart's desire is for this life. What would you say? How would you answer? Some of you have already shared some of your pressing questions of faith and life on the cards that are available in the narthex, that I look forward to incorporating into my Lenten sermons throughout the season. Thank you for those! Keep them coming!
When one visits our partner churches of Mtera or Migoli or any of the cities, towns, villages or parishes of the Iringa Diocese in Tanzania, it never fails - the children will flock to you in awe and wonder. Children are the same everywhere. Their laughter, smile, and overall joy is infectious. In my experiences in Tanzania the children always run up to me asking for something - what do you think it was? Not money. Not candy. Not piggy back rides. That I would take their photo. “Wazunga!” (white person) they would shout with glee, “Will you take my photo?” And I would take out my phone and take their picture. They would shriek with excitement! “Now let me see what you see!” they would shout in their broken English. “Let me see what you see!” over and over, I remember. “Let me see what you see!” This memory of mine, as I reflected on the story of Bartimaeus, was, ultimately, what he was asking on the road outside of Jericho that day. He wanted to see what Jesus saw. The real miracle that day was not that he regained his sight and was able to see again, but that, upon regaining his sight, he chose to follow Jesus. He was not satisfied to merely see the sights, to find familiar faces and places in his hometown. He wanted to see the world, from Jesus' point of view - to see the people and the places and the problems and the possibilities that Jesus saw. Bartimaeus chose to leave behind what would have certainly been a notorious reputation (“I once was blind, but now I see!”) to follow Jesus. And so we never hear from him again in scripture. We don't know where his journey of newfound faith took him. What we do know is that once Jesus gave the man his sight, the man was no longer content to hang around Jericho. He chose to follow Jesus, in order to see what Jesus saw.
And that brings me back to the question: What do you want Jesus to do for you? What would your sign read? In truth, he has already done so much, that you might be wondering, what else is there? We have forgiveness for our sins, and we have the promise of eternal life. We unconditional love. What else is there? What else could we possibly want Jesus to do for us? Of course there are so many prayer requests on behalf of ourselves and loved ones, that we continually ask of Jesus. Keep asking those! But consider also, what Bartimaeus wanted; to see the world as Jesus sees it. To look at the fringe people of our world with compassion instead of judgment. To look at the poor and reach out to them in mercy, instead of running from them. To see broken, sinful, disobedient people and treat them with forgiveness and grace instead of rejection and scorn. In short, to see others the same way Jesus sees us, and then to love them. Which reminds me of our church mission statement - “To Share Christ’s Love With Joy!”
Which now brings us to the theme of this first Sunday of Lent - Just Wondering, Jesus: What do you ask of your Church? To paraphrase our other gospel reading this morning from Luke: Jesus returned to Nazareth where he had grown up. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to temple. But this time he stood up to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah: "God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, he has sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, and to announce, “This is God’s time to act!” He then rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he added, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.”
That is the purpose of the Church. To see the world, and the people of this world, through the eyes of Jesus. It’s what Bartimaeus wanted. It’s what Bartimaeus was given. Like Bartimaeus, we too, once we come to faith, are called to follow and to share everything we know and love about Jesus and how He has healed us, with others - and we at SPLC have committed to do it with joy! We are the blind beggar on that road to Jericho that has been given every reason to be joy-full! Jesus has given us light and life and love. And once we too, see the world as Jesus sees it, we cannot sit on the side of the road any longer. We need to share, with joy, the joy of the Lord, and what we are now able to see - Jesus’ light and life and love.
In recent news cycles you’ve likely heard about the “Asbury Revival” at Asbury University in the small town of Wilmore, Kentucky. This spontaneous marathon 24/7 worship service which began on February 8 has drawn tens of thousands of visitors from across the country and world! After just over two weeks of continuous worship, it finally was forced to end this past Friday by University and town officials saying that the rapid influx of visitors to this small town — whom they welcome and appreciate — was causing too many logistical issues for the town and surrounding area and will need to move off campus. Amazing, right?
While there is definitely a place for worship within the Church, and while this recent revival is great and reason to rejoice, I have found myself asking, is it what Jesus asks of His Church according to Luke’s gospel? Consider with me for a moment what author, pastor, and activist, John Pavlovitz recently said about this revival on his blog: “Christians, you want to have a real “revival”? Stop singing. Start emulating Jesus. Get out of the church building and go feed the hungry, heal the sick, care for the poor, welcome the immigrant, and love the least. It takes no effort to sing. Singing alone helps no one outside the building. Leave the building. Go and love. Then, sing while you do.”
On this first Sunday of Lent, like Blind Bartimaeus, I invite you to ask Jesus to let you see your world with his eyes. Like those young Tanzanian children, I invite you to ask Jesus to see what he sees - to make you and me aware of the hurting and the helpless and the people without hope. This is what God asks of God’s Church. To get out of the building and to see and to act as the eyes, and the heart, and the hands of Christ! To want change, and then to trust that God will use you to provide it. And then, to sing when you do.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Our Lenten Hope
You’ve likely heard the saying, “It has to get worse before it can get better”.
This saying rings true during the church season of Lent of which we now are in.
Lent is traditionally a time of repentance, recognizing and turning from our sins, remembering and reflecting on the passion of our Lord, and searching within ourselves for a renewed faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Lent is often a somber, reflective, and perhaps even a depressing time for us as we journey together through it. Strangely, that is the purpose of Lent. Lent calls us to realize that as it happened for Jesus, it must happen for us – that life will often get worse before it can get better. Lent and Holy Week are opportunities for you to walk those last weeks, days, and hours with Christ and to experience again the pain and suffering He endured as he was led up that mountain to the cross.
But Lent is also a time of hope. As Christians, we have hope because we know the end of the story. We know that the original Lenten journey did not end at the cross. We know that the journey of faith never ends! Our journey of faith only continues on into life everlasting with our loving Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Embracing that promise, I challenge you this Lenten season to fully participate in the worship opportunities that are planned and in place for you to fulfill these strange intentions of the season. Opportunities that will allow you to repent, reflect, give thanks, be healed, be renewed, and be strengthened in faith. Our Wednesday midweek worship services are planned and in place not to replace your Sunday morning worship but to complement it. As you worship on Sundays and Wednesdays throughout Lent, the suffering, pain, distress, and betrayal that Christ experienced will be felt again by us as we, together, gather to reflect on the emotions, thoughts, reflections, and insights that we might be having in the midst of our own wilderness journey. See the Lenten schedule below for more details regarding those midweek services.
By fully participating in Lent and Holy Week worship services you will appreciate and experience more the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday Morning as we celebrate the Hope in all of its fullness!
So together, as we journey through Lent, we trust that this long, dark, and sometimes difficult walk will indeed get better – and that is our Lenten Hope!
See you in Church! (and bring a friend!)
Just Wondering, Jesus ...
Just wondering, Jesus.....
Do you have questions for Jesus? Bartimaeus had an important one. And surely you do, too. Read the story of Blind Bartimaeus from Mark's gospel.
"They spent some time in Jericho. As Jesus was leaving town, trailed by his disciples and a parade of people, a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, was sitting alongside the road. When he heard that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by, he began to cry out, “Son of David, Jesus! Mercy, have mercy on me!” Many tried to hush him up, but he yelled all the louder, “Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped in his tracks. “Call him over.” They called him. “It’s your lucky day! Get up! He’s calling you to come!” Throwing off his coat, he was on his feet at once and came to Jesus. Jesus said, “What can I do for you?” The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “On your way,” said Jesus. “Your faith has saved and healed you.” In that very instant he recovered his sight and followed Jesus down the road." -Mark 10:46-52 (The Message)
Imagine you could experience God, in the form of Jesus, from the same position as Blind Bartimaeus – street level – from the roadside. If you knew Jesus was passing you by on the roadside, would you have the courage to ask Jesus your question? What would you ask? What did Bartimaeus ask of Jesus? What was his request? Do you think it was difficult for him to ask this? Was he afraid, embarrassed, or ashamed? How did he know to ask Jesus this important question? Do you think it is okay to ask difficult questions of Jesus? What do you think Jesus thinks when we ask our questions? Does he welcome them? You see? Lots of questions! And that's okay!
This Lenten season we are going to be considering some very important questions that people of faith have long been asking Jesus. It’s okay to ask questions. However, questions of faith often don’t have concrete or easy answers. Are you okay with not getting definite answers to your questions?
Some say questioning or doubt is a sign of a weak faith. I would argue that asking questions and expressing doubt occasionally are actually signs of growing in one’s faith. How can this be? Did Jesus ever ask questions? What questions did Jesus ask? What question do you think Jesus would have liked to have asked? Yes, Jesus asked lots of questions, too. He's not unlike us in that way.
If you haven't already, please fill out the Lenten question cards that you can find in the narthex. On them, ask your important question of Jesus. Place your questions in the basket on the table in the narthex and I will do my best to address them in my sermons throughout this Lenten season.
Lent begins this Ash Wednesday. I hope you can be present in worship that night at 7:00 p.m. as we receive communion and the imposition of ashes upon our forehead. The ashes remind us of our mortality while communion reminds us always that death doe not have the final say. Jesus died so that our mortal souls can live forever. It's a glorious gift from God. Find out more about our Lenten theme and season.
See you in Church! (and bring a friend!)
Super Bowl Sunday is upon us. I'm sure it will be another thrilling match-up. All will have prepared well, sparing no expense in terms of time and effort. The stakes are high; the competition is fierce; and the whole world will be watching…. And, no, I’m not talking about the game itself, but rather the Super Bowl commercials!
I have to admit, I enjoy watching Super Bowl commercials. We all have our favorites or most memorable ones from over the years. But among them all, for me, none have really equaled the uplifting quality of a 2014 Duracell Battery commercial that featured Derrick Coleman of the Seattle Seahawks. Do you remember that one? In only sixty seconds it tells the story of how at a young age, Derrick lost his hearing, was bullied as a result, was picked last for teams, was harassed by coaches, and was not even drafted by the NFL. And then comes the signature line, when Coleman says, “Everybody told me to quit. They told me it was over. But I’d been deaf since I was three, so I didn’t listen.” The last scene is of Coleman entering the Super Bowl arena and saying, “And now I’m here, with a lot of fans cheering me on, and I can hear them all.” (Followed, naturally, by the tagline across the screen: Duracell: Trust Your Power.) You can watch the commercial in the attached video below.
The commercial is so wonderful because it creates a sense of possibility, potential, empowerment, and freedom. Derrick’s story of living into the person he felt he was meant to be, against great odds to boot, inspires us because we hope that’s our story, too.
As much as I love that commercial, I’d like to think we might get that feeling in places other than Duracell commercials. At home from supportive parents or spouse. At work from good colleagues. On the athletic field from coaches and teammates. At school from caring teachers and friends. And obviously, at church from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
My ongoing prayer (and dream) for our church is that it too, provides a place of possibility, potential, empowerment, and freedom, where each of us can safely live into the person we feel we are created to be. This takes each of us to make happen. Are you contributing to creating such space for others in your words and actions? Are you benefiting from such space as a result of other's words and actions? The old football cliché is that "it takes teamwork to make the dream work." You're on the team. Contribute to the dream. While Duracell might tell us to "trust our power", I remind you to "trust God's power."
Many of us have heard of Vince Lombardi, the legendary football coach of the Green Bay Packers. He’s the coach the Super Bowl Trophy was named after - The Lombardi Trophy. Lombardi was known to do one thing before every football game. He would take a football in his hand, hold it up before all the players and pronounce, “Men, this is a football.” His goal each and every game was to remind his players of their purpose, stating "The game requires, and starts with a football."
As you prepare to the watch the big game (and commercials) this Sunday, be reminded of your purpose - that requires, and starts with Your Church - your Community of Faith.
See you in Church! (and bring a friend!)
Pastor Dale Stiles
A Weekly Check-In